The PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS have really redefined what a Ďportable experienceí is and can be. To that end, it can be difficult to gauge just how much a game needs to take portability into account; after all, save states and flash drives are quickly making it possible for lengthy role-playing and sports titles to be as pick-up-and-playable as Tetris. A portable title is no longer under the same constraints as years past, and many developers are embracing this additional freedom. Gran Turismo stands out in stark contrast to the evolution of the platform, as it is stuck between the sensibilities of the past and present by providing an abbreviated yet deeply involved design.
Over five years in the making, Gran Turismo represents Polyphony Digitalís attempt to squeeze the behemoth simulator onto the PSP. How much they succeeded depends on just what you take out of the series. If you enjoy getting to the nitty-gritty, then youíll find yourself right at home with over 800 cars to try out, with handling and specs as accurate as ever, and 35 tracks, reversed and altered for over 60 courses. However, if you enjoy the traditional Gran Turismo experience of gaining licenses, progressing through the ranks, upgrading and tweaking your cars, then you will be disappointed: there is no career mode, no purchasable parts, and only a rudimentary Ďtuningí option. I fall more in line with the latter camp; to me, Gran Turismo is about taking those mechanics that this version has replicated so well and mastering them throughout a challenging -- and frustrating -- career. This is, essentially, the series distilled into its purest form: drive, earn cash, buy new car, repeat.
Before tearing up the tracks, though, I would definitely recommend using the first 15 to 17 minutes to perform the optional data install. Second only to the racing is the loading. A rather inelegantly laid-out, but nice-looking, menu system adds to the loading by forcing you into additional menus to see a carís specs or if you already own it. With hundreds of rides, itís easy to forget what you own or stumble across a car you know nothing about, which makes the omission of shortcuts or on-screen indicators all the more baffling. There is a Ďfavoriteí feature that allows you to mark up to 30 that cars youíre particularly fond of, but it doesnít make much of a dent in the inconvenience of having to wade through menus and, for the memory card-less, load screens.
After minimizing the load, which will drive you nuts otherwise, you can then more easily enjoy one of four single-player modes: single race, time trial, drift trial, and driving challenge. The modes are pretty self-explanatory -- though that wonít stop me -- with you going head-to-head against three other opponents during a single race, against the clock in time trial, and corners as you drift for points based on control and style. The challenge mode is a sort of catchall mode that breaks you into the mechanics, and similar to the license events from previous releases, with progress unlocking additional trials and sending credits to your account. There is also an ad-hoc multiplayer mode for up to four (including yourself) to play against and trade cars with, but, and this is a big but, no server-based online play. Since there is no career mode, a bit of good news is that all of the tracks are unlocked from the start to go solo or with friends. Considering how well the driving mechanics have been carried over, with the controls as unforgiving as ever, you will definitely want to practice for a bit.
A rather perplexing feature is the dealership. The game runs on its own calendar, and after so many days only five manufacturer-specific dealerships are unlocked to purchase from. An additional catch is that the set of available cars is completely random. The absence of any way to upgrade stings enough, so it would have been nice to at least be able to buy preferred cars without having to cross any fingers. Despite a lack of purchasable upgrades, there are a handful of tuning options; however, you can only save quick tunes for your 30 favorite cars. Universal tuning is available that affect all cars, but I canít think of a reason why only 30 out of over 800 cars can have custom settings -- this seems like a needless and arbitrary hindrance. The calendar approach is definitely interesting, and breathes a bit of life into the gameís world, but the longevity seemingly relying solely on the abundance of vehicles stretches this approach nearly to the breaking point by making it as difficult as possible to collect your favorite cars.
True to the series, and to the chagrin of most, car damage is not modeled. What started out as understandable has morphed throughout the years from curiosity to disappointment. Other racing titles have done a great job in modeling damage both visually and mechanically, so itís a shame that one of the preeminent console sim lines continues to neglect it. Itís also surprising that there are noticeable seams between polygons: the cars look great, sparse dashboards aside, but every ten to fifteen seconds a white line appears in the pavement. The graphical flaws donít affect the gameplay, but itís surprising nonetheless, coming from such a seasoned developer and a title thatís been in development for so long. The tradeoff for the flaws is a speedy framerate of 60 frames per second, and audio that holds up well against its more refined predecessors.
Gran Turismo delivers the core mechanics of the series, but it doesnít quite deliver the experience. If your interests lie in jumping straight into a car and hitting the track, then you will find the cars, courses, and mechanics that you love. If youíre like me and you enjoy tweaking a ride and seeing it through a career, trudging from the bottom to the top, then you will find Gran Turismo lacking; hardcore players in particular will be able to chew through the content surprisingly fast. The foundations of the series are here, and in fine form, but itís a barebones affair that seems to have either been developed with an outmoded methodology of what a portable title can be or without giving the PSP its due. Gran Turismo is a solid racer, but fans have come to expect much more out of such an illustrious series.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)